St. Luke 10.vv.1-12
~ After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house'. And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, "The kingdom of God has come near to you". But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this; the kingdom of God has come near'. I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town." ~
In these days when so many people watch football and rugby on the terraces or on the television there is a great awareness of the rules of the game, but someone has coined the phrase "moving the goalposts". Such an idea suggests anarchy; there must be rules, and they must be obeyed.
In the lovely little book of Ruth in the Old Testament do we see a bending of the rules or has someone "moved the goalposts"? Living among the Jewish people, Ruth, a Moabitess, a foreigner, "unclean" and outside the Law, is portrayed as displaying love and loyalty to her Jewish family and neighbours and is accepted; not despised or rejected. Could this mean the "rules of the game" are wrong? Surely God could not accept Gentiles on the same basis as Jews? "Yes", said a few, "that must be it". Has someone moved the goalposts? Did she not become the great grandmother of the great King David? "Yes", said the many, "Ruth was the 'exception who proved the rule'". Can we draw general conclusions from this particular instance. The rules of the game still stand, but look at it whichever way you choose, there is a problem here.
So the rules did stand until Jesus came on the scene. At first a popular figure, teaching and healing, he soon began to break the rules (or did he move the goalposts?). He mixed with Gentiles and outcasts, praised highly a Roman Centurion, behaved like a Samaritan his enemies said, commended a publican in prayer as against a Pharisee, sent out 70 or 72 apostles into a largely Gentile world teaching a universalism that many of his fellows deplored. "This simply won't do", said the religious authorities, "That's breaking the rules of the game" and so by twisting their own rules they put him to death.
After Pentecost Jesus' followers went out to import the "good news", but how should they "play" it? Some (the majority?) said, "We must obey the Law of Moses. All must accept the Jewish rules, then salvation can be offered". "No", said others, "Jesus came to do away with all old rules; only love counts." There was a sharp division of liberals and hard-liners. Paul, a protagonist of the liberal faction declared, "All that's needed is faith in God and Jesus Christ." Peter, not so sure, could see the value of the old traditions and the reasons for the "rules of the game". But while the Church discussed and argued, God acted. Peter, confronted by the simple fact of Cornelius' faith and his acceptance by the Holy Spirit was forced to drop his prejudice - "Do not call unclean what God counts clean" - that ended the matter.
The Church of Christ is not a "closed shop". However much we believe in the rules of the game, only one rule really counts - the law of love. The Church, past and present, acts sometimes like an exclusive club. But Christ will have none of this exclusive behaviour. The Church must be a community of the redeemed and reconciled, reconciled to God, to one another, and to itself.
We must accept with thanksgiving the diversity of God's world and accept all God's children with love and fellowship - then the rules won't matter for it will be a different game - but the goalposts will be steady!